Saturday Sports Q&A: World Cup a surreal time for U.S. player Chitulangoma

·5 min read

Jul. 9—ROCHESTER — Rochester Mayo 2022 graduate Chileshe Chitulangoma had the experience of a lifetime in May, when he and his U.S Men's Para National Team played in the IFCPF World Cup in Salou, Spain. The U.S. placed fourth in the event, its highest finish ever.

The 18-year-old Chitulangoma had made the U.S. team for the first time. Chitulangoma, who was eligible for the squad due to having cerebral palsy, was its second-youngest player. He was used as a midfielder and played in one of his team's five games.

Post Bulletin: What was on your mind as you boarded a plane on April 26, leaving from Rochester and bound for International Federation of CP Football World Cup site Salou, Spain?

CHITULANGOMA: It was crazy because I felt like I had already accomplished my biggest football goal of making the U.S. team. It was an insane accomplishment to be a part of that squad. Now my goal was to be as successful as possible in the World Cup, the best tournament there is. I was thinking that I wanted to do whatever I could to help our team create history. And I think we were able to accomplish that.

PB: You played in one match, against Australia. In what other ways did you contribute to the team's success?

CHITULANGOMA: As a soccer player, the team always comes first. Even if I was not contributing on the field, I wanted to be contributing in other ways such as bringing 100% effort in training sessions. When you do that, you're pushing those who are (regulars in games) to be at their best. You're keeping players sharp and keeping team morale up when you're playing hard. Also, our team captain gave some of us younger players roles. One of my roles was to bring the hand sanitizer to the dinner table and to carry sauces to make our food taste better. It was all about creating a good team environment and a good vibe with all the players.

PB: What was the feeling when you entered the match with Australia, the only one you'd play in at the World Cup?

CHITULANGOMA: It was surreal. It was crazy. I didn't know what to expect, but I just wanted to make sure I enjoyed the moment. I wasn't really thinking when I was out there. I was just playing.

PB: What were the crowds like at the World Cup games?

CHITULANGOMA: There weren't great crowds for this event. The promotion of it needs to be much better. It sucks that there is no longer soccer in the Paralympic Games (2016 was the last year that it was offered) because that gave us so much more publicity. The goal in the future is to get soccer back in the Paralympic (Games) where the tension is great at matches and the attendance is great. But it is one of the things I've thought about, how can I be an ambassador for (para soccer)?

PB: You had some down time when you were playing in the coastal town of Salou, which is about 80 miles from Barcelona. How did you spend it?

CHITULANGOMA: Because Salou is on the Mediterranean Coast, I enjoyed the beach. When I had free time I went there and swam. It was really nice. There were also cafes on the beach which were good. And I enjoyed being in a Spanish-speaking country because I've been learning it for a while. But it is one thing to have a decent vocabulary (in another language) and another thing to speak it.

PB: What is next for your U.S Men's Para National Team?

CHITULANGOMA: Now that the World Cup is over, camps will be less frequent, maybe one a month. But our next major tournament is the Pan American Games in Chile (Oct. 20-Nov. 5). They are hosted by the International Olympic Committee and have a (para) tournament that involves North and South American teams. The last time we played in that, we finished third. So I think now our goal is to compete for first place.

PB: What are your latest soccer goals?

CHITULANGOMA: The ultimate goal is to win medals and help push our U.S. National team as far as it can go. As for myself, I am working on getting bigger, to bulk up while retaining my athleticism. I think I can physically become a lot more dominant. There is always room for improvement. I also want to become a more technical player. I've been training the last couple of months with (National Premier Soccer League team) Med City FC, and every one of those players is technically really good and quick thinking. It's been the right environment for me to learn and get more of those attributes and increase my speed of play.

PB: This coming school year you will attend Clemson University in South Carolina. What's on your mind concerning your first year of college?

CHITULANGOMA: They have a Paralympic soccer team at Clemson and I have multiple teammates from the U.S. National team that will also be attending Clemson while I'm there. I'm looking forward to being with them and to see some of these boys in a different setting. But I'm also excited to meet new people and be in a new environment.